Sunday, April 11, 2010

April 14, 2009

The next few days here at PS are going to be kind of somber. 

The one year anniversary of my car crash is on Wednesday and I have some things I need to say. Back when the accident happened I wrote a few posts about what went on, but I was medicated and hurt and tired and I never really said what I wanted to. That day and the few days following have been on my mind lately and I'm going to write down what happened. Because I need to do it. It will help me move on.

I'm doing this for me. There are things I haven't talked about because I just couldn't say them out loud. So I'm doing it now. 

You are welcome to follow along. I wouldn't be posting it here if you weren't. It's going to be hard for me to write and also hard to read. 



It began as just a regular day. Isn't that always when things happen? Just regular, ho-hum days that should go by unremembered.

I don't remember much about the morning. I'm sure I slept in as I always do on non workdays. Andy and I had just finished our taxes the night before and were planning on mailing in our paperwork that day so we weren't waiting until the very last minute. April 14 is close enough to the deadline for us (P.S. we filed early this year). Also, I had a package waiting for me at the post office. It was from Amazon. A book and CD that I'd ordered with a birthday gift card. I had tried to pick it up on Saturday, but the office was closed. Actually I think the package was why I was going to the post office that day. If I hadn't had that incentive I would have probably put the taxes off until Wednesday.

So I got up and showered. I wanted to look nice because I was planning on doing a little shopping after I ran my errand. I put on my favorite pair of jeans, a nice purple blouse (for Maddie) and my favorite floral patterned trench coat. The day was rainy and gloomy so my trench coat offered protection from the rain and also from the gloom because it was so bright and cheerful.

Then I posted this about my half painted toenails from Easter Sunday two days before. Boy howdy, did I regret that later in the hospital when innumerable people saw my toes. I haven't left my house with unpainted toes since. I'm not kidding.

I jumped in my Jeep, my old companion, and drove across the street to get all the paperwork from Andy. It was quick, we just had to sign a few things, a kiss, "I love you" and goodbye.

The drive to the post office only took a few minutes. It really isn't very far. After mailing the taxes and getting my package I walked back out to the Jeep to open it. Everything was there and I was so excited to listen to my new CD. I wrestled with the plastic wrapping and then with the sticker holding it closed. Finally it opened. I popped it into the player and drove away from the post office. It was about 2:00.

The CD had just started playing track 3. I was singing along to the chorus and going around a curve.

And then he was there. Right in front of me. No time to react. Nowhere to go.

I remember thinking "Oh no!" and that was it.

The actual impact and following seconds are, blessedly, buried in my subconscious. The last thing I remember is seeing the other car in my lane and then I woke up.

I must have regained consciousness before I regained awareness. I've been told by people on the scene that I was actually in the floorboard underneath the steering wheel and I pulled myself back into the seat. I have no memory of that happening.

My first memory is of me in my seat.

There were so many emotions. I was confused and not a little surprised to find that I had been unconscious. I knew I'd been hit, but somehow I just didn't think it should have been enough to knock me out.

I was angry. This was going to put a serious cramp in my plans for the day, and I wanted to know what the heck the other car was doing on my side of the road.

All these thoughts happened in just a few seconds and then I tried to take a breath to calm myself down.

I couldn't breathe. It was probably a combination of being winded and the fact that my nose was broken and I didn't know it.

I'm sure it only lasted a few seconds but it felt like an eternity. Real panic started to set in and I could feel myself losing consciousness again. My eyes were still closed at that point, but the light that I saw got dimmer.

In those few seconds I was sure my life was at an end.

You hear people say that during those life or death moments they see their lives flash before their eyes. That is a lie, or it was for me.

I saw my family. The people that I hold so very dear and I saw the pain they were going to suffer.

I saw faces. Andy, my parents, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. I saw Julie and her pregnant belly and I longed so much to meet the child inside. I did not want to die. I was not ready. And it wasn't just for me - it was for them too.

And then I caught my breath.

Instant relief. Even if it happened again I had more time before the paramedics came. Time was so precious in that moment.

Then I opened my eyes. There were two people standing in front of my car. One of them was an older man and the other was a woman just a little older than me. Somehow I knew he was the one. Maybe it was the look on his face, but I just knew. I was angry again, but in a different way. I felt pity for him. He was clearly very old. Why was he still aloud to drive? Didn't his family care enough about him to drive him around? This was their fault.

I started to evaluate the situation inside my car. I knew I felt very disoriented. I didn't feel pain, but I didn't feel good either. The best way to describe it was to say I felt very weak.

My steering wheel was the first thing I looked at. It had been bent back. That was bad.

I looked over in the passenger seat and saw blood all over the seat and my purse. Also bad.

Then I looked at my hands. Covered in blood. Still bad.

What the hell happened?

Obviously all the blood was mine, but what on earth was wrong with me that I was bleeding so much?

Then a voice. A woman. She was at my window. I had cracked it about two inches to let in some fresh air, but still keep out the rain.

I don't remember what she said. I told her my husband's name and his place of employment and then she was gone.

Suddenly there was a flurry of activity. People all around me. Talking through my windows. Asking me questions. What was my name? How old was I? I answered them.

At some point I remembered what I'd said about Andy and wondered why I had told them to call his work. It could take forever to track him down. There were so many people so I just started asking for someone to call my husband.

A female voice (I don't know if it was the same one) told me they had called his work. I told her that would take too long and gave her his cell number. She was gone again, but just a minute later she came back. He was just up the street at the hardware store. He could have seen the accident from there. She said he was on his way. He told me later he thought I was already dead, or very close, because of how upset the person on the other end of the phone sounded.

I think I must have been going in and out of consciousness because I remember someone saying that my doors wouldn't open and they were going to have to force them open. Then a man told me I was going to hear a loud noise, but it was alright and not to be frightened. I never heard it. The next thing I knew they were in the car.

There were hands and voices everywhere.

One in particular I do remember. Her name was Marie. She was a paramedic and she was trying to keep me calm and keep an eye on my vital signs while everyone else worked to get me out.

Once they were in the car I opened my eyes again and then I saw my hood. It was bent up so bad and that was the moment my brain chose to register the fact that my Jeep was done for. My long time love that I had paid for and painstakingly kept running was no more. I might walk away, but my Jeep wouldn't.


I said, "Oh my God! My car!" and that's when I felt my bottom teeth. My perfectly straight, born with them, teeth were ruined. It was so bad I was certain I'd lost several and at that moment I also spit out a tooth fragment. My next statement? "Oh my God! My teeth!"

Marie said something like, "Yeah. You're hurt pretty bad. But don't worry they can fix your nose and teeth and at least the cut on your face is under your chin so you won't be able to see the scar."

What? What the? What?

I had no idea what my injuries were. I was too disoriented to look in the mirror. I knew there was blood, but hadn't figured out where that came from yet. That was the only complaint I had with Marie. A word of advice to anyone reading, if you are ever in Marie's position do not under any circumstances rattle off all the person's injuries unless they ask.

I hadn't asked. I would have been fine not knowing for a little while longer.

Then Andy got there. They let him in the car for a second. As soon as I heard his voice, "Hey baby," I broke down. I hadn't cried up to that point and I was on the verge of a serious meltdown. Marie saw it coming and talked me down. She was a serious godsend that day and I'm forever grateful to her.

They put me in a neck brace. That would have been incredibly uncomfortable anyway, but it sat right on where my chin was cut and that was the first time I felt pain. I had to hold my head just right to keep the brace from putting too much pressure on my chin.

While they were working all around me I started to pray. I raised my hands and prayed. I have no idea what I said, but I prayed harder than I ever have. 

All of a sudden it was time to get me out, but one of the men asked me to move my limbs and made sure I didn't feel pain they couldn't already see. I moved all my arms and legs one joint at a time. That's when I felt my ankle. It hurt, but only when I moved it. I told him so and since that was the only other obvious issue he asked me to help push myself out. The driver's side door was bent shut so they had to pull me out through the passenger side.

He had my shoulders and I pushed the best I could. It happened very quickly and easily. I was out and on a board. I remember looking up and seeing faces, so many faces. I asked everyone that would listen their name and thanked them for coming. I'd never been so glad to see a bunch of strangers in my life. I was overcome with gratitude for their presence and their knowledge.

Andy was still there. He asked me what happened. Was it my fault? He said some other things, but I started ordering him to call people. Call my mom! Call Julie! Get my purse and use my phone! 

The skies had opened up and I was getting rained on so they got me into "the bus" which is what they called the ambulance.

The other driver (remember him?) was in there too. He had said he was a little dizzy so they took him to the hospital too. For just a second we were in there alone. I was looking around at the inside of the ambulance and then I saw him. He was upside down because he was seated behind my head.

He met my eyes. "I'm sorry." he said.

I almost told him that it was OK. But then I realized I was lying there on a board, wearing a neck brace and it most certainly was not OK. I didn't know what it was, but it wasn't OK. So I just didn't say anything. I looked away. That was the last time I saw him.

Then Marie was there by my side again and we were moving. (I later found out that this whole process took about 30 minutes.) She and her partner, Topher, were asking so many questions. Then my phone rang. It was Andy. I had put my phone in my jacket instead of my purse and he'd spent several minutes frantically searching my car for it. Oops.

Then Marie told me she needed to cut my jacket sleeve to take my blood pressure.

I didn't really have a choice, but I was not at all happy about that. I still mourn that jacket. It was just so perfect.

Once we got to the hospital and I was wheeled into the ER there was another flurry of activity. People everywhere. Nurses and orderlies. The doctor came in. I still remember his name. He was very kind and told me they were going to take care of me.

This whole time my panic and concern had been at a minimum. Somehow I just felt very peaceful, like it was all going to be alright. Whether it was prayer or my own disillusionment I don't know, but I'm grateful. 

Andy was there right behind me and I asked if he'd called my mom and Julie. He said he had and my mom was on her way. Then he said that Julie couldn't come because she was keeping her friend's kids that week. I remembered that as soon as he said it and do you know what I said? I said, "Oh! Poor thing!" because those kids are kind of hyper and Julie was still having morning sickness.

There I was in an ER, broken and bleeding and I was worried about Julie. So there you go Julie, proof that I truly love you.

The nurses had to cut off the rest of my clothes. They actually asked me, but I said, "Well you've already cut off my jacket so why not cut up everything else too." I was mad about my clothes. The only things that made it out alive were my shoes, my bra (covered in blood) and my panties (that I still can't find even though Andy swears they came home with us).

Once they evaluated me a little bit and determined I wasn't going to die right there on the table they sent me for x-rays.

Up to this point everyone had been so very nice. I expected the same from the x-ray technician.

She was the devil.

First of all she was smaller than I am and she didn't have anyone to help her. By that point I was starting to feel the pain all over my body and let's not forget my ankle was possibly broken. Still she made me scoot myself off the gurney and onto the x-ray table. I asked her if she didn't have someone to help her move me and she ignored me.

First up was my head, and then my ankle that she picked up and dropped several times on the table. Oh, don't mind me and my possibly broken ankle lady. I'm just an actual person here on this table and not a practice dummy.

She took some more with me on my back and then told me to roll over onto my side. I just told her no and when she asked why no I told her that too. "I have just been in a car accident! I am in PAIN!"

Thankfully she gave up and did the best she could and Andy came in to sit with me.

Someone else came in to draw blood. Her name was Jennifer. She was about my age and very pretty and I told her so. By that point I knew my face had been ruined and even if they could fix it I was upset. So when she told me I was pretty too I just cried. I don't blame her, what was she supposed to say?

It took a while for her to get the blood she needed because I had bleed so much already. Andy got annoyed because she stuck me so many times, but honestly I didn't feel it.

Back to the ER I went and by that time Andy's parents and my mom were there. As soon as I saw my mom I started to cry in earnest. There is just something about seeing your mother in that kind of situation. Her presence made me feel like I was going to be OK and at the same time like I was still the little girl she had raised and it was alright to have a good cry. So I did.

After I got it together I saw that someone had brought me flowers and that made me cry all over again.

Then they needed to prep me so the doctor could come and stitch up my chin. The nurse came in and started to get me ready. Then I started crying again when I was telling my mom about praying in the car. The nurse and my mom were crying with me. I was pretty pitiful.

At some point someone told us they hadn't found any broken bones on my x-rays. They were wrong, but I didn't know that until the next day.

When they sent the plastic surgeon in I knew who he was. Everything about him said, "doctor" and he was with a man who was training to be a physician's assistant. They were both so kind and reassuring and while the doctor got ready his assistant took the time to clean my hands. They were still covered in blood. He talked to me all about his family and how he had decided in the middle of his life to change careers and pursue medicine which had always been his dream. He was quite an inspiration.

During my examination we discovered that my chin was numb and I couldn't feel a lot of what he was doing. He told me I had an exposed nerve and clearly it had been damaged. He wasn't able to tell me if it would heal. "Time will tell" was all he could say. He proceeded to numb the rest of my mouth and face so he could put in the stitches, but then he paused when he saw how bad my teeth were. He wasn't sure he trusted himself enough to take care of those and they might need to transfer me to another hospital. After he made a phone call he came back and told me that he and another surgeon had decided it would be better to transfer me. That was probably the best decision made that day because I needed so much more than just a few stitches.

My step dad came while we waited for the transfer. He has a hard time when I'm upset over anything and I would tell he was rocked by how I looked. It isn't often he loses his cool, but I could tell he had.

It took several hours for the ambulance to come back and get me. The hospitals were in the middle of a shift change and they had to wait for that before they could call and give all my information.

So we waited. And we waited. And we waited.

Finally it was time and Marie and Topher came around the corner. I was glad to see them again. I felt like I had already developed a relationship with them and I was comfortable riding with them to the other hospital.

Marie rode with me and Topher drove. It was very peaceful and the first time that day I'd really been allowed to rest. I was kind of sorry when the drive ended.

When they wheeled me into the new ER I looked at all the nurses and said, "Hello!" I was very chipper for whatever reason. Most likely it was the pain medication. I don't remember the exact time I got there. It was around dinner time because Andy stopped to eat before he came to the hospital.

Another flurry of activity to get me settled. I recognized one of the nurses as the wife of a former professor. Seeing her made me cry again.

I had a few more moments of peace, so I closed my eyes and got a little rest. I wasn't able to sleep, but being left alone was nice.

Two surgeons came in. One was going to look me over and make sure I didn't have any internal injuries they couldn't fix. If so they were going to transfer me again. The other was there for my facial injuries. He was going to operate that night as long as I wasn't hurt to badly internally.

The first surgeon poked and prodded me. My right side hurt around my ribs. I could see the concern on his face. He ordered more x-rays and a CAT scan (I think).

Andy came back to see me for a minute and then two women came down to wheel me up for my x-rays. One of them was the sister of a guy I went to High School with. It's such a small world we live in.

After all the scans and x-rays I went back to the ER to wait for results. Andy sat with me a little while. He came in and out. Our family was in the waiting room and he split his time between me and them.

The results came back and I didn't appear to have any internal injuries, so they just had to wait for an OR and for the doctor to get ready.

I felt like I waited a long time.

During my wait a guy came into the ER with his parents who said he shot himself in the shoulder looking through his hunting stuff. His story sounded pretty lame and I don't think anyone really believed he got shot the way he said he did. I didn't believe him and I couldn't see him. They put him in the ER bay next to me.

Now, I'm not saying it doesn't hurt to get shot, I'm sure it does. But this guy was a big 'ole baby. He yelled and cried and wailed while they were treating him. I said something about it when the nurse came in to check on me and she smiled and said, "Well, I wasn't going to say anything, but I wanted to tell him that I have a woman over here that's hurt a lot worse and she hasn't made a peep!" That made me laugh.

Finally it was time for my surgery.

It took several hours and by the time they wheeled me upstairs it was about midnight and I was exhausted.

Andy went with me and we met the anesthesiologist in the OR prep room. He told me he was going to give me something to go to sleep for my surgery.

I felt no fear, only relief. I was finally going to sleep. Which is what I had wanted for a long time.

Andy was holding my hand and I was lying flat on the gurney. The florescent lights has covers over them with pictures of clouds and flowers. There were also pictures taped to the ceiling tiles. There was a picture above me of a rabbit and I started to tell the anesthesiologist about Brunswick and Milton.Then I got a little worried because Andy and I had been gone so long from home. No one had fed them that night. Andy assured me they would be fine.

The anesthesiologist started the medication and I drifted off thinking of my two little fur balls.

To be continued...

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